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Surgery for Refractive Errors

Some types of surgery can change the shape of your cornea (the clear front layer of your eye) to fix refractive errors.

What types of surgery can fix refractive errors?

The most common type of refractive surgery is called LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis). Most types of refractive surgery, including LASIK, use lasers to change the shape of the cornea. Some use other tools, like implants.

What is LASIK?

LASIK uses a laser (a strong beam of light) to change the shape of the cornea and help make vision clearer. It works best for adults with nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. It can’t fix presbyopia. For LASIK to work correctly, your vision needs to be stable (meaning your eyeglass or contact lens prescription stays the same over time).

Is LASIK right for me?

To find out if LASIK is right for you, you’ll need a comprehensive dilated eye exam. The exam is simple and painless. Your eye doctor will ask you to read letters that are up close and far away. Then they’ll give you some eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil and check for other eye problems.

LASIK isn’t right for everyone. Some eye conditions can raise your risk for complications from LASIK, including:

  • Keratoconus (a disease that makes the cornea thinner over time)
  • Eye infections, like keratitis or ocular herpes
  • Dry eye
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataract
  • Large pupils

Talk with your eye doctor to decide if LASIK or another type of refractive surgery is right for you.

What are the benefits of LASIK?

After LASIK, most people see well enough to stop wearing their eyeglasses or contact lenses for most of their daily activities. Since everyone gets presbyopia as they age, and LASIK can’t fix presbyopia, most people will still need single vision glasses or contact lenses at some point.

What are the risks of LASIK?

LASIK can cause side effects, just like any surgery. Common side effects include:

  • Dry eye
  • Seeing a glare or halo around bright lights
  • Double vision
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light

These side effects usually go away after a few months. Your eye doctor may give you eye drops or other medicines to help with these side effects. Rarely, these problems can be permanent.

Other risks of LASIK include:

  • Infection
  • Problems with corneal healing
  • Vision loss, or seeing less clearly than you did before surgery

If LASIK causes vision loss, you may need another surgery to fix it. Rarely, vision loss from LASIK may be permanent.

If you see clearly with eyeglasses or contacts, you may decide that the risks of LASIK outweigh the benefits. Talk with your eye doctor about the risks and benefits and decide together if surgery is right for you.

What happens during LASIK surgery?

During an eye exam before the surgery, your eye doctor will use a scanner to make a detailed image of your cornea. This image will guide the laser during surgery.

Just before surgery, your doctor will put drops in your eye to make it numb. They may also give you a medicine to help you relax.

During the surgery, your doctor will cut a small flap in your cornea and fold it back. Then they’ll shine a laser into your eye. The laser will be programmed to change your cornea into the correct shape. Then they’ll put the corneal flap back in place.

How long does it take to recover?

Right after surgery, your eye might be irritated and your vision will be blurry, so you’ll need someone to give you a ride home from the doctor’s office.

Your eye doctor may give you medicine or special eye drops to help with any pain after the surgery. You may also need to wear a special patch over your eye for several nights, to protect it while you’re sleeping.

You’ll be able to see after surgery, but it takes 2 to 3 months for your eye to finish healing. Your vision will get clearer as your eye heals. Ask your doctor about when you can go back to your normal activities.

Will I need more treatment?

LASIK works very well for most people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. You’ll need to wait 2 to 3 months to find out if the surgery worked.

After surgery, you’ll need follow-up visits with your eye doctor to check how your eye is healing and how much your vision has improved.

Some people still need to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses after LASIK, and some people may need another surgery to fix their refractive errors.

What are the other types of refractive surgery?

Alternatives to LASIK include:

  • LASEK (laser epithelial keratomileusis)
  • EpiLasik
  • Phakic intraocular lens (IOL) implantation
  • Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK)

Your eye doctor can talk with you about the different types and the risks and benefits of surgery.

Last updated: June 26, 2019